Barnsley FC’s remarkable rise under Valerien Ismael a timely reminder of the power of the beautiful game

THE REPUTATION of English football at the top level has taken a battering of late due to the grubby plans of the avaricious ‘big six’ to put cash before competition. Fortune before fairness.

RRemarkable ride: Barnsley players celebrate Carlton Morris’s controversial goal against Rotherham on Saturday that eventually sealed a play-off spot. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
RRemarkable ride: Barnsley players celebrate Carlton Morris’s controversial goal against Rotherham on Saturday that eventually sealed a play-off spot. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Bill Shankly would have called the club owners ‘bloody greedy’ had he still been around.

After a week when six of our biggest clubs were savaged after plotting to be part of an closed-shop’ European Super League, the sight of Barnsley – a club not blessed with parachute payments like many well-heeled second-tier rivals – securing a play-off place is a refreshing antidote for many.

At the end of 2019-20, lest we forget that only a goal in stoppage-time in the final game prevened the club being relegated to the League One.

Mastermind - Valerien Ismael (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Less than a season on and Barnsley are three games from the Premier League. It is no fluke.

It could be one of those magical stories that wonderfully crops up in football from time to time. Like Leicester City in 2015-16, Huddersfield Town in 2016-17 and Barnsley in 1996-97.

Much of this latest special Oakwell tale has been down to Valerien Ismael’s seismic impact.

A tough taskmaster with sky-high standards he may be, but deep down, he is also a footballing romantic.

Alex Mowatt has been a driving force for Barnsley (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

He said: “This is the emotional connection with football, fans and history. Leicester City won the Premier League and everybody still speaks about that.

“This is football and the reality of football that some magic moments can happen if you believe in yourself and your principles.

“If you have less money than the other team and maybe less quality in your squad than the other team, with togetherness, organisation and clear principle, you can see that everything is possible in football.

“This is why the fans and everybody stood up against the (European) Super League to protect our football.

Carlton Morris collides with Viktor Johansson before heading in Barnsley's opening goal against Rotherham United (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

“Our mentality gives hope to the people and it is why we are proud to give our fans that pride in a difficult situation with the pandemic. It is getting better in the UK and you feel it.

With the season so far, January, February and December was tough for everybody and through our performances, we gave the people happiness and hope to just keep fighting with togetherness, and everything will go in the right direction.”

Goodwill has arrived from all corners following Barnsley’s outstanding achievement – including from nearby Huddersfield.

Their own captivating story in reaching the top flight during the unforgettable ‘No Limits’ era of David Wagner had many neutrals willing them on. It is much the same with Barnsley.

Reds’ CEO Dane Murphy commented: “I have a pretty good relationship with Phil (Hodgkinson) at Huddersfield and if there is one guy who has been behind me in this entire time from another club, it is him. He sends me messages all the time and even the other night (when the clubs played), he was still fully behind what Barnsley represent and what we are doing.

“We are neighbours and he has an affinity for Yorkshire.

“There are elements and parallels of what they have done and hopefully we can continue in that way. It would be incredible.

“To have support from others in and around sport and specifically in our league congratulating us and saying it is a good thing for the sport makes you feel good.

“Can this sort of thing be replicated anywhere else in any other sport? Probably not.

“The feelings, emotions and ability to strive for something so outside of your means and what most people would think is impossible before you start, can be achieved.

“There is not much of it left in the game. But when it does happen, it makes you realise why we all do it and love it so much and why people will never give up on their club, town or badge. It is because of stories like this in times like this.”

Meanwhile, Murphy has reiterated that Daryl Dike will be available for their play-off campaign.

There have been concerns that the nine-goal forward could be recalled by Orlando City, but Murphy has reassured supporters.

Murphy added: “We have an extension through the end of the season, no matter what that day is. They (Orlando) have a recall that was built into the loan because of their MLS window, which had changed. It was originally May 5.

“Our original loan was until May 2 and May 5 was the time he had to be back (by) before he was not allowed until July to play. They said: ‘Listen, he has to come back by May 5.’ 

“Now we have got to this point, we have an extension through to the end of our season, but the recall was left there in case we did not make the play-offs.

“As we may need him past the 2nd, we left that in there so that he could go back (if Barnsley did not qualify). Now that we are in the play-offs, we fully expect him to see out the season with us and push us as far as we can go.

“It has worked out for all three parties as best as it possibly could.”

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